The Porcini Mushroom Risotto That Won Over My Italian Husband

It took me years to get the recipe right...but it won't take you nearly as long.

October 14, 2018
Photo by Bobbi Lin. You can use any type of wild mushroom, but I like to cook with fresh porcini—shown here in Lagostina cookware—when they’re in season.

We're partnering with Lagostina to celebrate the Italian Sunday dinner with stories, recipes, and videos about this special family tradition. Here, blogger and cookbook author Kristina Gill shares her favorite authentic risotto.

One of the most coveted residences at my undergrad university was the Italian house. Not just because of the central location and he fact that you were guaranteed your own room, but because of the food. Having studied all aspects of Italian purely for passion (I was a political science major, not an Italian major) it was a perfect place to live my senior year. I made friends with Lucio, the cook at the Italian house, and hung out in the kitchen close to meal times to learn how to cook.

Thanks to this setup, Lucio, a Roman, was the first person to teach me how to make a risotto. But it’s even better to learn from someone from a rice-growing region of Italy, for example someone from Lombardy or Veneto, where rice often plays a more prominent role on the table than pasta. After I moved to Italy for graduate school and then work, I made sure to get a porcini mushroom risotto lesson from my friend Alessandra in Vicenza, and a strawberry risotto lesson from another friend’s mother, Gianna, in Padova.

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Six years and three risotto lessons later, I finally felt confident enough to put the dish on the table for my soon-to-be husband, who hails from Tuscany. Though he only admitted it afterward, I knew he was skeptical that an American could cook at all, much less Italian food. I passed with flying colors, however, and qualified to be introduced to the mother-in-law. That introduction was the beginning of the Italian tradition of Sunday lunch with the mother-in-law, which, needless to say, didn’t last long (because, you know...mothers-in-law).

So we began Sunday lunch at our own home, just me and my husband, and we committed together to make something nice each Sunday to contrast with the single course meals we ate during the week. Our usual Sunday meal includes a first course of pasta or risotto made with an attractive ingredient we’ve found at the market. That could be a new cheese, wonderfully ripe tomatoes, smoked fish, bitter greens, the horizon is limitless, or just revisiting an old favorite like penne all’arrabbiata, penne dressed with a simple spicy tomato sauce.

The second dish usually consists of fish or chicken served with a light green salad or other shaved seasonal vegetables served raw or lightly marinated. If I haven’t slept in, maybe just maybe we have dessert based on a recipe from new cookbook or the latest internet recipe sensation.

In autumn, the first course I most look forward to is the porcini mushroom risotto. Fresh porcini have a limited season, which I usually start announcing to friends a few weeks in advance before I go porcini crazy. More important than the porcini, though, is actually learning the technique of making risotto. Learn it and it will carry you through every season of the year with virtually any ingredient.

Here are my tips for making a perfect risotto all year long:

  • Almost any type of mushroom will do. If you can’t get fresh porcini, you can use dried or frozen, or sub in any other type of fresh mushroom. I’ve even seen friends use canned porcini here in Italy.
  • Don't overlook the quality of the broth. This will give the risotto its base flavor, so a quality broth is important.
  • Make sure the rice has a good bite. The cooking time for risotto (once the rice hits the pan) has an average window of 14 to 16 minutes. But making a perfect risotto is a matter of practice and preference; some teachers say you shouldn’t stir the rice during the cooking process, some say you should. Regardless of how long it takes or your method, the outcome should be a firm grain of rice with a bite—not mushy or chalky. When the rice is ready, it should move in the pan all’onda, or in a wave; it shouldn't be watery or stodgy.
  • The best part? The leftovers. Although leftovers are rare in my house, if you do have them, you can make supplì or arancini.
  • If you're making supplì, insert a small piece of mozzarella in the center and ensure it's completely encased by the rice; if making an arancino, just form the rice into a ball. Roll the balls in flour for a light dusting, dip them in egg, and cover them in breadcrumbs or panko (my preference for maximum crispiness). Deep fry them until caramel colored, rest for five minutes, and serve immediately.

More Authentic Recipes

In partnership with Lagostina, the premium Italian cookware brand that values high-quality materials and time-honored craftsmanship, we're highlighting the #LagostinaSundayDinner with a new series all about the Italian tradition. Every Sunday, we'll share go-to Sunday recipes from some of our favorite chefs and cookbook authors.

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Kristina Gill

Written by: Kristina Gill

Italy-based food and travel photographer. Tasting Rome.